Big Media Continues to Fight Against Net Neutrality

Looks like our prediction in our recent HuffPo post was spot-on. Citing piracy concerns, Big Media has made its deal with broadband ISPs like Comcast to make sure its Internet video gets priority A-1 Express Lane carriage over the Internet. In exchange, they are supporting the ISPs' fierce opposition to net neutrality rules that would bar them from pushing everyone else's video into the Bus Lane, if they even deign to deliver it at all. Variety reports that:

At an Institute for Policy Innovation panel addressing online piracy, leaders of Hollywood, the recording industry and the wireless industry touted the beginnings of a long-term relationship built on a foundation of making the Internet a thriving market for legal content and a dead end for bootleggers. "We're all in this together," said MPAA Chairman-Chief Exec Dan Glickman.

"We're moving toward a world where all our interests align," said RIAA Chairman-CEO Mitch Bainwol. "The long-term relationship is much more complex and partner-based," Bainwol said, suggesting that congestion, while a serious issue for content generators and ISPs alike, is only one common interest.

Could it possibly be that degrading and discriminating against video that competes with Big Media, Big Cable, and Big Telco could be another "common interest?"

As much as we also support fighting piracy, for Big Media to shout "piracy" as a reason to oppose reasonable net neutrality rules is a diversionary smoke screen for what's really going on. The existing FCC policy principles that call for net neutrality, as well as every proposal to turn those principles into enforceable rules, speak to ensuring that broadband providers allow consumers "to access the lawful Internet content of their choice." By definition, pirated content is not "lawful content." Big Media's claim that net neutrality rules will prevent it from combating piracy goes way too far, as evidenced by Comcast's recent blocking and slowing of its customers' access to content distributed by BitTorrent. In knee-capping BitTorrent, Comcast didn't just block pirated content, but all BitTorrent content, including legitimate un-pirated content such as a file containing the text of the King James Bible, and video that BitTorrent was distributing on behalf of its clients Fox, Time Warner, and Viacom -- all card-carrying members of the MPAA!

At a recent Senate hearing on the Internet Freedom Preservation Act introed by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), FCC Chair Kevin Martin spoke disapprovingly of Comcast's blocking and tackling of BitTorrent and strongly hinted that the FCC would take action, despite Comcast's claim that the FCC didn't have legal authority to enforce its net neutrality principles.

Allowing Comcast, AT&T, and other broadband gatekeepers to discriminate against video content delivered by the BitTorrents of the Internet world vastly strengthens the competitive position of Big Media's new Hulu.com as the leading and "safe" web distribution method for video. Can there be any doubt that as a condition of Big Media's allying with the broadband providers to fight net neutrality that there is a clear understanding between them that Hulu will never be discriminated against in the way BitTorrent was? Look for all the Big Media companies currently using BitTorrent and other distribution over the Internet to sign up soon with Hulu. Following that, to ensure they are not discriminated against by broadband gatekeepers and placed at a competitive disadvantage, look for many more video content creators to place their content on Hulu. In a world without net neutrality, linking up with Big Media's Hulu -- and its insulation from Comcast-style discrimination and degrading -- will be a matter of self-preservation.

The Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) has called out the MPAA and ISPs and their anti-competitive collusion. Writes the IFTA:

That openness [of the Internet] is threatened by the power of a small number of broadband providers to discriminate unilaterally against some categories of users or types of traffic or to accord preferential treatment to certain content providers over others, all under the ambiguous claim of "network management." While these providers may have some legitimate issues related to the technical management of their networks, there have already been cases of different treatment of users and it is clear that there must be transparency, equal treatment and an avenue of redress when the providers' private decisions trespass fair rights of others and the public interest. Thus, the issue is not whether government should regulate the Internet, but whether there will be effective oversight to prevent a handful of corporate giants from imposing their own version of private regulation to the public's detriment.

The opening of Hulu and the MPAA's vehement denunciation of net neutrality are intimately related, a double-barreled shot aimed at the heart of the open Internet. The goal of Big Media and the ISPs is nothing less than to turn today's wide open Internet into a closed system more akin to cable television. The likely result: as we've documented in cable, independent and diverse voices and their content will be inexorably marginalized or silenced.

To prevent this Big Media alliance with Big Cable/Telco from cornering and controlling the Internet, it is time for the government to implement reasonable network neutrality oversight that protects consumers and content creators, and preserves the open Internet we enjoy today. We need the Internet Freedom Preservation Act.